Butcher Boy: Profit in Your Poetry

The songs’ protagonists wander through fogs of worry and indecision, and the songwriting makes us care.

Butcher Boy

Profit in Your Poetry

Label: How Does It Feel To Be Loved?
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2007-03-05

Last year’s The Kids at the Club compilation of up-and-coming indie-pop, the first release from the label How Does It Feel To Be Loved?, was filled with spark and fashion: perky young things galore. But then there was Butcher Boy’s “Days Like These Will Be the Death of Me”, as dour as its title. Its final lines: “This house is like a fire when the sun sets / It knocks me to my knees / And days like these will be the death of me.” Yet it was pretty, with calming strings, and as melodic as its neighbors -- in the literate pop tradition of Sarah Records and Postcard Records and other labels of yore that record collectors obsess over.

That same song is the bittersweet end to Butcher Boy’s debut album Profit in Your Poetry, the second release from that same label. Here the song comes not among dancefloor anthems but after expressions of anguish, sadness, worry over the past and the eternal, anxious present. It’s an entire album of word-precise, melodic, emotional songwriting, of the same sort as the Glasgow-based band’s introductory appearance promised. A dark mood weighs over all of the songs, though still some bounce with the energy of a solid pop hook. The songs’ protagonists wander through fogs of worry and indecision, and the songwriting makes us care.

The house on fire at the album’s end is an unsettling echo of the brief opening track’s image of our narrator in bed, wrestling with anger, confusion and sexual frustration (dirty dreams and grinding teeth). “I’m screaming in my sleep,” the song starts, ending, “I just want to find a way home.” That elusive feeling of “home”, missing even within your own bedroom, is a major theme of Profit in Your Poetry. The time-shifting lyrics to “There Is No-One Who Can Tell You Where You’ve Been” dive back and forth among memories, as if singer John Blain Hunt were singing to a photo album. The liner notes include a painting of nearly that: a man on his knees in front of photographs, laid out before him. A handwritten caption reads, “Butcher Boy is carefully arranging 500 photographs into chronological order, looking for anything in the faces that might indicate why he would do this.”

With memories come love: real, imagined or unattained. All of those types, and more, are at the heart of the album’s prettiest songs, which still cut with a sharp blade. “I Could Be in Love With Anyone” offers a sad swoon, and poetry: “Glass reflects my eyes and skin / But still my lips will crumble like ash when we kiss.” In the philandering chorus, our lovelost narrator tries to pretend that he doesn’t care, but his claim to be “breaking hearts for fun” doesn’t fit with the yearning and concern in the verses. The song “Fun” opens with the comfort of intimacy, seeming like the one moment of fulfillment on the album. But things are, of course, more complicated. “I was blinded by the times when we were fun,” the chorus goes, while the verses move from resigned, yet slightly caustic, apology for relationship failure (“Maybe I was slack or forgot to love you back”) to absolute bitterness (“If I tell the truth / I miss the autumn more than you”).

Throughout the album there’s a sense of uncertainty, of things never being as calm as they might seem, of no one ever really understanding what’s going on in their lives or why. Bodies are described and analyzed; moments from the past are longed for and despised; lives are lamented and rejected, their value lost. “I pull the stories to my chest / I let myself believe the one that I like best,” Hunt sings during the song “Girls Make Me Sick”. It’s an accurate description of the way the characters in these songs behave: creating their versions of the truth, choosing which memories to recall and what to make of them. And it presents an image of the songwriter doing the same thing: selecting photographs, looking at them under just the right light, and setting the rest on fire.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.